Despite my writing about mental health publicly and always knowing that my mental health is temperamental, I have never before sought a diagnosis. I will freely admit that the reason has been fear. Fear that a diagnosis would be my undoing and the fear of the stigma. This year my injury lead to a major downturn in my mental health and my physical health lead to a diagnosis of anxiety and depression.
“You are a working mother of three young children you know?” In the run up to my taking time off work for my physical injuries, I heard this several times. I saw four different health professionals saying that I was exhausted, despite getting some regular sleep. I was losing my short term memory, leaving money in cash points, missing appointments, finding I had driven places and I didn’t know why. No one looked passed that sentence except to suggest I take up yoga!
Immediately after I took time off work I remember being sat in the gym pool during the day. It was peaceful and quiet but I just could not relax. My head raced. Plotting and planning, mentally making dinner, worrying about what mood the kids would be in after school and how I would handle it. No matter how much I tried I could not settle my racing thoughts.
Fight or flight
I was diagnosed with anxiety by a psychologist who was assessing my pain management following my foot injury. His conclusion was that I had shut out the pain until it was so bad I couldn’t ignore it any longer. I was initially confused as I didn’t have unhealthy fears, or panic attacks and I thought I slept well despite being tired all the time. What I realised during that gym session was that my anxiety was rooted in the loss of control of my thoughts.
That my brain was permanently locked into a state of fight or flight. I had no idea how to relax. The loss of my run removed my time to order my thoughts. Take deep breaths and calm my mind. Without it I was lost.
My time out of work was spent busy. Busy getting better physically and mentally. I am now getting help from an NHS physio, I have accessed some counselling through my employer and I have employed the services of a personal trainer to help me find my missing endorphins.
As I sought the answers I engaged in some mindful meditation but as a mother of three, five minutes peace is a rare commodity. One session went so badly after I sneaked away to follow my apps guided breathing. I ended up hyperventilating and shouting at all three monkeys. Meditation fail!
It isn’t what you think
Shortly before I went back to work my children stopped sleeping and also I changed my contraception. I also started counselling. In my first session I completed the GP depression test and my score concluded that I should be prescribed antidepressants and sent for psychiatric testing! As I pointed out my score could be skewed by the other factors at play. You never know where sleep deprivation ends and hormones or depression begins.
What I did learn over my time off however was that life is ever changing. I had no time to sit still despite my time off. The reason for this was that I finally had time to look after myself. I attended medical appointments Monkey free and it enabled me to concentrate on what was being said, process it and act. Also I once wrote about the bicycle of change and the cycles of motivation. Maybe I can’t control how I feel from one day to the next, I can only react to how I am feeling. Just because one day I feel awful and eat anything I can get my hands on doesn’t mean I can’t move on from it tomorrow (or next week or next month) and rectify it.
Remove the guilt
I have the answers. Exercise, healthy food and plenty of water. Some days I don’t want to do any of the above or I feel incapable of looking after myself. These days I just tell myself “don’t despair. Tomorrow might be better”. By extracting the guilt and the fear I can take back some of the control. I can observe the feelings and thoughts without fear of it overwhelming me. Telling yourself to breath in and out is easy. Grab the closest loved one and hug them. Take some fresh air, Running not always required.
In conclusion, if you are feeling lost right now know that your feelings are ok. They are legitimate you need not feel any guilt. Sit tight and ride the wave. The cycle will continue to turn and a better day will come round again.
Have a good World Mental Health Day 2017 everybody. Don’t be alone.